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Ninja militia forces

The Ninjas are named after the famous Japanese warriors. In the previous conflicts of 1993 and 1998/9 they were controlled by Bernard Kolelas, the former Prime Minister and Mayor of Brazzaville.

The "Ninjas" are a group of rebel soldiers typical of many like groups in Western Africa in that they are primarily young, heavily armed, poorly trained and undisciplined. Observers note a lack of muzzle discipline and suspected drug use. Its members are recruited mainly from the Lari, the Bakongo and the Bateke ethnic groups.

Approximately one half of the population follow animist beliefs, or are of no religious affiliation. Some of these mystical and messianic practices have been associated with political opposition groups. For example, members of the Lari, who make up large numbers of the Ninja rebel group have gone into battle wearing religious charms to protect them from bullets.

Fought against Lissouba's Cocoyes in the 1993/4 civil war, but sided with the Cocoyes in the 1997 and 1998/9 civil wars against Sassou-Nguesso. Formed the Resistance Self-Defence Forces with the Ninjas in the 1998/9 war. Initiated military action against government forces on 29 March 2002. Stronghold is in the Pool province. They divided into the pro-Kolelas faction and the Nsiloulou faction lead by the Reverend Frederic Bitsangou (aka Ntomui). Also known as the FADER (Forces d'auto-défénse et la résistance or Self-Defence and Resistance Forces), the armed wing of CNR (Counseil national de résistance). The Ninja were allied to Bernard Kolelas, who was former president Pascal Lissouba's last prime minister and mayor of Brazzaville until Lissouba was defeated by Sassou's forces in the June-October 1997 civil war. Kolelas remained neutral through most of the war and served as a mediator in the early part of the conflict. However, he later threw in his Ninja militia on the side of Lissouba in an unsuccessful joint attempt to defeat Sassou's forces. The Ninja then retreated into Kolelas' home region of Pool, which surrounds Brazzaville. The security situation in the Pool region has remained uncertain since then, with clashes between government forces and the Ninja intensifying in late September 1998.

In mid-December 1998, Ninja members were reported to have "infiltrated" the southern Brazzaville districts of Bacongo and Makelekele, which are considered to be Kolelas' strongholds (and which were relatively untouched and served as safe havens for displaced persons during the 1997 war). Three days of heavy weapons fire and shelling of the two districts by government forces succeeded in driving out the Ninja from the districts, but a new incursion by Ninja took place in the Kinsoundi area of Brazzaville on 21-22 January, media reports said. Kolelas, the leader of the Mouvement congolais pour la democratie et le developpement integral (MCDDI), was living in exile in Washington.

The leader of the "Ninja" rebel group, Frederic Bintsamou, known as Pasteur Ntumi, returned to Brazzaville on 10 September 2007 to assume his new post as a presidential advisor promoting peace in the aftermath of the civil war. Accompanying Ntumi were at least 100 ex-combatants who serve as his personal bodyguard. There were an estimated 700 ex-combatants who had remained active in the Pool region south of Brazzaville since the cessation of conflict in 2002, occasionally conducting roadblocks and highway robberies of large lorries and trains traveling between Point Noire and Brazzaville. On several occasions they stopped Brazzaville-Pointe Noire trains to steal cargo, extort money, and commit violence against passengers.

Ninjas - 1993 Civil War

For a large part of the period following its independence from France in 1960, the Republic of Congo was embroiled in political crises and violent conflict linked to ethnic divisions and power struggles among the country's political elite. From 1964 to 1991 the country was a one-party state ruled according to Marxist-Leninist principles. President Dennis Sassou Nguesso seized power in 1979 and governed the country until 1992.

From early 1990 the government began moving toward a multi-party political system, which culminated in presidential elections in which Pascal Lissouba defeated Bernard Kolelas and Sassou Nguesso and acceded to the presidency. Disputed legislative elections in 1993 led to violent conflict between militias, representing party political and ethnic interests and formed to support the three major political leaders. During the 1993-94 civil war, Sassou's Cobra militia and Kolelas's Ninjas were allied against Lissouba's Cocoyes in a conflict in which some 2,000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced before an agreement was signed in December 1994 to end hostilities. However, agreements to disarm militias and integrate them into the security forces were only partially implemented; disputes concerning the elections continued and violence increased in the run-up to 1997 elections.

During the 1993-94 armed conflict, Sassou Nguesso's Cobra forces and Ninjas loyal to Kolelas were allied against President Lissouba, and "Kolelas' Ninjas reportedly received weapons and other military assistance from Sassou" (AI, Mar. 1999, p.7). However, there are no reports of the two militias being merged. Attempts were made to incorporate militia members into the regular armed forces following the first civil war of 1993-94, but these efforts had only limited success. The separate militias maintained their identities and the Cobras, Cocoyes, and Ninjas were active and responsible for serious human rights violations up to the present.

Ninjas - 1998 Civil War

There are numerous credible reports of grave human rights violations committed by Ninja militia forces loyal to former Congolese Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, including hostage-taking, torture, and extrajudicial executions. These violations have occurred in a conflict in which all the major armed groups-linked to the Congolese government, to Kolelas, and to former-President Pascal Lissouba-appear to have committed grave human rights abuses. Amnesty International has accused government and opposition leaders of ordering or condoning "human rights abuses to eliminate or intimidate known or suspected supporters of their opponents" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 12).

A Congolese government report accused Kolelas of major human rights violations and a court sentenced him to death in absentia. However, the objectivity of the report has been questioned since it excluded violations committed by government forces, while the capacity of a judiciary--"overburdened, underfinanced, and subject to corruption and political influence," according to the State Department (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 102)-to ensure a fair trial to political opponents has also been called into question.

In June 1997, when President Lissouba, fearing a coup d'etat, sent Cocoyes to arrest Sassou and disarm his Cobras, fighting spread throughout the capital-Brazzaville was divided into three zones each controlled by one of the militias. According to Amnesty International, "Civilians and members of the security forces suspected, usually on the basis of their ethnic origin, of supporting rival leaders were killed, detained or driven from their homes. . . By August, fighting had spread to northern Congo" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 8). In September 1997 President Lissouba appointed Bernard Kolelas as Prime Minister, while Sassou refused to take up five ministerial posts offered to his party. In October, supported by Angolan troops, Sassou's forces took control of Brazzaville and on 17 October 1997 Sassou declared himself president.

In January 1998 a forum for national unity and reconciliation was convened and approved a three-year transition period that would lead to presidential and legislative elections in 2001. The forum also concluded that leaders of the previous administration, including President Lissouba and Prime Minister Kolelas, had committed grave human rights violations, including acts of genocide, and should be brought to justice. In June 1998, the Sassou government published a report entitled "The Civil Wars of Congo-Brazzaville" that accused Lissouba, Kolelas, and other members of the ousted government of human rights violations. However, according to Amnesty International, "Serious human rights abuses . . . committed by government forces and militia of President Sassou did not feature in the report" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 9).

In October 1998 a court "indicted 100 members of Congo's former government with a sweeping list of offenses including assassinations, tortures, rapes, fraud and theft" (CNN, 16 Oct. 1998). Former-President Lissouba was later sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and former-Prime Minister Kolelas was sentenced to death in absentia for their alleged crimes. The U.S. Department of State, however, has stated that the "judiciary continued to be overburdened, underfinanced, and subject to corruption and political influence" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 102). Amnesty International concluded: "a number of judicial officials appeared to be partisan in their acknowledgement of human rights abuses which had occurred when former-President Lissouba was in power. The officials were reluctant to admit that forces loyal to President Sassou had also carried out grave abuses of human rights. In most cases they appeared to support the government line that forces loyal to former-President Lissouba and his Prime Minister, Kolelas, had almost exclusive responsibility for the crimes committed in late 1997" (AI, Mar. 1999, p.12).

Armed conflict between the contending forces continued throughout 1998 and into 1999, accompanied by grave human rights violations. Some 10,000 people were killed in the conflict and over 800,000 displaced from their homes by the fighting. Following military advances by government forces, a ceasefire was signed in December 1999 between the Sassou government and Ninja and Cocoye militia leaders and an amnesty was offered to "all men bearing arms and guilty of war crimes who renounce violence and agree to lay down their arms". National reconciliation talks were to be held before the end of 2000, but the Congolese government was opposed to the participation of Lissouba and Kolelas, "who they blame for the wars that had occurred in the country since 1993". Kolelas rejected the ceasefire agreement, calling it a "sham" and a "masquerade".

Human rights and news reports have documented grave rights violations committed by all three major contending parties in the Republic of Congo -- the Cobras and regular security forces loyal to President Sassou Nguesso; the Cocoyes of former-President Lissouba; and the Ninjas of former-Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas. According to Amnesty International: The United Nations Commission on Human Rights cited the human rights violations brought to their attention by non-governmental organizations as including "summary or extrajudicial executions; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and rape; forced or involuntary disappearances; and violations of the freedom of expression, opinion and assembly" and concluded that "these human rights violations are allegedly committed by all parties to the conflict and particularly by members of various armed militias" (UNCHR, 29 Dec. 1999, p. 6).

According to Freedom House, there were "numerous and persistent reports of atrocities against civilians committed by both sides in the conflict. Victims describe persecution by soldiers and their militia allies at army roadblocks and recount being used as human shields by rebel militia forces" (Freedom House, Freedom in the World, 1999-2000, p. 2).

Within the context of human rights violations committed by all the major contending forces in Congo, there was overwhelming evidence that the Ninja militias associated with Bernard Kolelas had been linked to multiple, grave human rights violations. According to Amnesty International, "From June 1997, Ninja and Cocoye combatants reportedly killed hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed civilians at roadblocks in their Bacongo and Makélékélé strongholds."

"During a temporary ceasefire in July 1997, Ninja and Cocoye combatants summarily executed members of the security forces and civil servants, as well as many other civilians, passing through their roadblocks."

"From late August 1998, after armed clashes resumed in the Pool region, armed groups described as Ninjas, but also reportedly including Cocoyes, attacked unarmed civilians, as well as government and security officials. In reaction to the extrajudicial execution of three of their colleagues, . . . Ninja combatants in Mindouli reportedly killed the local police commissioner and an unspecified number of civilians on 29 August 1998. On 15 September, Ninja combatants reportedly killed several unarmed civilians, including the Sous-préfet of Goma Tsé-Tsé sub-region" (AI, Mar. 1999, p.15-16)

The Amnesty report goes on to list a number of killings by Ninja combatants of unarmed civilians, including a journalist, a trader, a village chief, six employees of the World Food Program, and five employees of the state railway company. "Ninjas were reported to possess a list of suspected or known government supporters to kill in the Pool region. Among the victims were non-speakers of the Lari language, spoken by people from the region" (AI, Mar. 1999, p.15-16).

According to another report, "In June 1999 the Ninja militia reportedly carried out a series of ambushes on members of the armed forces and civilians, including an attack on a civilian bus carrying returning refugees, in which 60 people were killed" (Newafrica.com, no date, p.1). CNN reported on 1 January 1999 that Ninja fighters seized two villages and barred 2,000 townspeople from leaving their homes. They cited witnesses who "gave accounts of Ninja militiamen torturing their captives" (CNN.com, 1 Jan. 1999). In July 1999 the Vancouver Sun reported that "Ninja rebels loyal to ousted prime minister Bernard Kolelas attacked the village of Oka in the Plateaux region" and "abducted 53 people" (Vancouver Sun, 6 July 1999).

Reports from human rights organizations and news sources also document major violations of human rights by government forces (and by militia loyal to former-president Lissouba). According to Amnesty International, "Hundreds of unarmed civilians and captured combatants were extrajudicially executed by government forces and allied militia." Government forces, "together with allied Angolan and Chadian government forces, reportedly killed hundreds more civilians during an offensive against the "Ninja" armed opposition group in the Pool region. Despite widespread reports of violence, including the burning of hundreds of homes, the authorities failed to investigate the killings or take any action against the perpetrators" (AI, Amnesty International Report 1999, 1999, p.3). And, according to the 1998 U.S. Department of State report on human rights practices in the Congo, "The government's human rights record was characterized by numerous serious abuses. Security forces, which included many undisciplined and poorly trained former members of non-government militias, were responsible for extrajudicial killings including summary executions, disappearances, rapes, beatings and physical abuse of detainees and the civilian population, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and arbitrary searches and widespread looting of private homes" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 99).

In mid-1998, the government of President Sassou Nguesso published a report that accused former-president Lissouba and former-prime minister Kolelas of grave human rights violations, including genocide. According to the report, "The Civil Wars of Congo-Brazzaville: November 1993-January 1994, June 5-October 15, 1997," also known as the "White Book," "these indigenous leaders ruined the economy, destroyed civil peace, disorganized public authority, armed militiamen, destroyed the administration, subjugated justice and, finally, attempted to stay in power by force by terrorizing the civilian population." In contrast, according to the report, "General Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who had accepted the voters' verdict and given up power without protest, did not become involved in the tragedy at any time" (The Republic of Congo, June 1998).

However, the report, which came from a government that itself had been credibly accused of grave human rights violations and which accuses its political opponents of bearing sole responsibility for the events of 1993-94 and 1997, appears to be something less than the independent and objective assessment of rights violations during this period called for by human rights groups. Responding to a question in the United Kingdom's House of Lords regarding the UK government's reaction to the "White Book," the government representative (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean) responded that "We have read with interest the white book, handed to the Foreign Office on 30 June 1998 by Mr. Adada. This claims that former President Pascal Lissouba was guilty of genocide during the 1997 civil war in the Republic of Congo. We have seen no independent evidence to that effect" (UK, 3 Sept. 1998). Following government military advances and the signing of a ceasefire agreement in December 1999 between the government and militia leaders, some 2,000 Ninjas and Cocoyes surrendered to authorities, turning in more than 1,600 weapons. However, according to a Ninja militia leader, "there are still almost 16,000 Ninjas in the Pool region around Brazzaville and several thousand Cocoyes" (Mikangou, 16 Mar. 2000).

Amnesty International in its 1999 annual report on the Republic of the Congo commented: "Serious human rights abuses, including many deliberate and arbitrary killings, 'disappearances' and torture, committed by government forces and allied militia under President Nguesso, did not feature in the [government's June 1998] report." The human rights organization went on to urge Congolese authorities to "set up an independent and impartial inquiry into human rights abuses that occurred in the recent past and to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice' (AI, Amnesty International Report 1999, 1999, p.1 & 4).

Finally, according to the State Department's 1999 human rights report, "Although the Cocoyes were formed from a nucleus of former President Lissouba's Presidential Guard and the Ninjas originally were founded by former Prime Minister Kolelas, it was unclear whether Lissouba and Kolelas continued to exercise any meaningful control over rebel military operations. The Ninjas were based largely in the Lari ethnic group" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1999, Apr. 2000, p. 137). This conclusion would seem to be borne out by the fact that leaders of the Ninja militia within the Republic of Congo signed a ceasefire agreement with the Sassou Nguesso government in late 1999 that was denounced by Kolelas.

In the South, the Bakongo, Bateke and Lari ethnic groups are the most likely to be persecuted as they constitute the majority of the Ninja militia. It is very easy to victimise a person: it sufficed to accuse an individual of belonging to or supporting one or the other militia. For a while government forces conducted security screenings of people returning from the DRC; young people were picked as militia members just because they had a mark on their shoulders which the government alleged to come from carrying a gun, or because their heads were shaved, another imputed sign for being a Ninja member.

Ninja Chronology

Chronology of major human rights violations alleged to have been committed by Ninja militia from 1993 - 1999
  • 1993: "Militias loyal to faction leaders held hostages from rival groups and engaged in numerous instances of looting, burning, rape, and physical assault. In the violence, at least 200 and perhaps many more persons died, many homes were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people had to flee their neighborhoods in which other ethnic groups dominated" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1993, Feb. 1994, p. 63).
  • 1994: "The major political parties established private militias, which included police and army personnel who had temporarily deserted their units. These private militias were responsible for the bulk of human rights abuses, but government troops also committed extrajudicial killings, and the police continued to use torture and other brutal measures against detainees . . . Abuses perpetrated by the private militias included extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, torture, and looting, but their frequency decreased significantly after the January 30 signature of the peace accord. Members of groups at both ends of the political spectrum purged ethnic majority neighborhoods of minority ethnic groups through the use of arson, looting, and assassination" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1994, Feb. 1995, p. 54-55).
  • 1995: "Members of the security forces and private militias continued to be implicated in increasing crime against civilians" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1995, Apr. 1996, p. 61).
  • 1997: Once the civil war began, government soldiers and the militias that supported them, as well as the opposition militias against which they fought, engaged in widespread extortion and harassment of civilians. Opposition militias killed, beat, and detained persons because of their ethnicity. Both sides, particularly the Government, targeted densely populated areas with heavy shells and rockets. Soldiers and militias engaged in heavy looting throughout the capital, causing great property damage. As a result of the violence, thousands of persons, most of them civilians, were killed in Brazzaville, and hundreds of thousands were displaced (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1997, Mar. 1998, p. 78).
  • From June 1997: "Ninja and Cocoye combatants reportedly killed hundreds and possibly thousands of unarmed civilians at roadblocks in their Bacongo and Makélékélé strongholds" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • July 1997: During a temporary cease-fire, "Ninja and Cocoye combatants summarily executed members of the security forces and civil servants, as well as many other civilians, passing through their roadblocks" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • 2 October 1997: Adrien Wayi, a journalist, was arrested, "blindfolded and taken to one of the houses forming part of Kolelas' headquarters in Bacongo, southern Brazzaville. When in custody, he was severely beaten and tortured in a variety of ways, including having "a hot flat iron placed on his abdomen, tearing the skin on his back using a pair of scissors and removing his nails with a pair of pliers." He was told that he would be killed and thrown into the river. He was released on 14 October 1997 and a year later still had severe headaches from his injuries and could not lie on his back (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 18-19).
  • 1998: "Members of the 'Ninja' armed group killed unarmed civilians who refused to support them, particularly before and during clashes with government forces" (AI, Amnesty International Report 1999, 1999, p. 3-4).
  • From August 1998: "Members of armed opposition groups, thought to mainly consist of Ninjas, carried out a violent campaign in which they arrested and summarily executed a number of government and security officials, and their relatives. During this campaign, the armed combatants destroyed and looted government property" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 17).
  • From late August 1998: "Armed groups described as Ninjas, but also reportedly including Cocoyes, attacked unarmed civilians, as well as government and security officials. In reaction to the extrajudicial execution of three of their colleagues, . . . Ninja combatants in Mindouli reportedly killed the local police commissioner and unspecified number of civilians on 29 August 1998" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • 29 August 1998: Armed combatants thought to be Ninjas shot a journalist, Fabien Fortune Bioumbo, and several other people who were traveling from Brazzaville to Mindouli. The victims, including Bivoula, a village chief, and Victor Kimbembe, a trader, were arrested and then shot by the combatants (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • 15 September 1998: "Ninja combatants reportedly killed several unarmed civilians, including the Sous-préfet of Goma Tsé-Tsé sub-region" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • 9 October 1998: Ninja combatants burned the police station and prefecture offices in Kinkala (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 100).
  • 16 October 1998: "A court indicted 100 members of Republic of Congo's former government with a sweeping list of offenses including assassinations, tortures, rapes, fraud, and theft" (CNN.com, 16 Oct. 1998).
  • 26 October 1998: Ninjas in the Pool region killed six employees of the World Food Program who were on a working visit in the region. During October 1998 Ninjas killed five employees of the state-owned railway company (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 15).
  • 14 November 1998: Ninja combatants killed six members of a church-led mediation committee [see above] and as many as 35 other civilians in an attack in Mindouli. (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 100-101).
  • 1999: "Rebel militiamen were responsible for serious abuses, including summary execution, rape and extortion. Rebel militias severed rail and power lines, thereby causing serious food and water shortages in southern towns. Militia commanders prevented displaced civilians from returning to their homes, prolonging their suffering under conditions of inadequate food and medical care" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1999, Apr. 2000, p. 129-130).
  • 1999: "Rebel militiamen, particularly the "Ninjas" and "Nsiloulou" based in the southern Pool region, also committed summary executions. These militiamen questioned young men among displaced civilians in the local dialect to ascertain their ethnicity and, if they were unable to answer, killed them as suspected government infiltrators. There were credible reports that rebels burned villages suspected of harboring infiltrators or whose inhabitants contemplated returning to government-controlled areas" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1999, Apr. 2000, p. 130).
  • 1999: "There were credible reports that rebel militia groups from the Lari ethnic group and operating in the Pool region repeatedly raped women, looted homes, and killed persons, even among their own ethnic group, and that they also tortured suspected infiltrators from other groups" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1999, Apr. 2000, p. 131).
  • 1999: "For much of the year, rebel 'Ninja' and 'Nsiloulou' militiamen prevented the return to Brazzaville of civilians who had fled the capital in December 1998. Rebels denied the displaced persons access to information about conditions in Brazzaville and punished families or villages of those who sought to return. Throughout the year, insecurity and rebel sabotage of the railway prevented train service between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1999, Apr. 2000, p. 134).
  • 1999: "Deliberate and arbitrary killings of unarmed civilians were also committed by armed opposition groups. In particular, cases of killings and abductions by the Ninjas were reported. As with the government, leaders of armed opposition groups were not known to have taken any measures to prevent further killings of civilians or to instruct those under their command to respect international humanitarian law" (AI, Amnesty International Report 2000, 2000, p. 82).
  • 1 January 1999: Ninja fighters "seized two villages in the Republic of Congo, barring 2,000 townspeople from leaving their homes." Witnesses "gave accounts of Ninja militiamen torturing their captives" (CNN.com, 1 Jan. 1999).
  • June 1999: The Ninja militia reportedly carried out a series of ambushes on members of the armed forces and civilians, including an attack on a civilian bus carrying returning refugees, in which 60 people were killed (Newafrica.com, no date, p. 6; Gouala, 5 June 1999).
  • 23 June 1999: "The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) has accused the Congo-Brazzaville government and rebel militias of killing between 5,000 and 6,000 people during the past six months" (Mikangou, 23 June 1999).
  • 6 July 1999: "Ninja rebels loyal to ousted Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas attacked the village of Oka in the Plateaux region last week. Fifty-three villagers were rounded up and taken to Ninja rear bases in the Pool region adjoining Plateaux" (Vancouver Sun, 6 July 1999).

Ninjas - 2002 Civil Disturbances

In previous conflicts, the Ninjas were controlled by Bernard Kolelas, the former Prime Minister. The attacks launched in March 2002, however, were instigated by a faction of the Ninjas called Nsiloulou, led by Reverend Frederic Bitsangou (aka Ntoumi). The Ninjas' claimed that the conflict was started when the Government sent 500 troops to Vindza, Pool region, the area of Ntoumi's headquarters. Ntoumi claimed that he sent some of his Ninjas to investigate but these men were fired upon by the government forces.

Congo - 2002 Civil Disturbances

On 29 March 2002, less than three weeks after the presidential elections, a militia group launched a series of attacks around the Pool area and on 2 April 2002 the same militia killed two passengers during a raid on the Pointe Noire-Brazzaville rail service. Fighting between the Ninjas and the government army (Forces Armees Congolaise - FAC) escalated to encompass large areas of the Pool province (the province surrounding, but not including, Brazzaville) and even parts of Brazzaville.

On 9 April 2002, a FAC operation in Brazzaville caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in the city. On 10 April 2002, the UN estimated that at least 65,000 people were displaced from Brazzaville, with a further 15,000 displaced from the interior. On the same date, however, the Mayor of Brazzaville appealed for calm, after which the situation there stabilised. The government forces removed many of their roadblocks and most international flights to the capital were unaffected by the situation.

Despite government claims that the situation was under control and that the army were doing nothing more than routing out bandits, on 20 April 2002, reports emerged that Angolan reinforcements were arriving, and being deployed in the Pool region. Much of the Pool region was inaccessible to anyone but the military, raising concerns amongst aid agencies for the welfare of the people there.

By 25 April 2002, the army claimed that it had secured the rail link from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire, the country's main port. While the rail link was in jeopardy, fuel and other goods, became scarce in Brazzaville.

Fighting continued, however, in the Pool region, and as a result, on 15 April 2002, UNICEF stated that there were up to 250,000 internally displaced persons in the country. On 17 April 2002, other UN sources put the figure at the much lower number of approximately 80,000. A French news report stated that by 21 April 2002 the flow of refugees into the capital seemed to have stopped.

The Angolan army, who helped Sassou-Nguesso come to power, supported the FAC in their military operations. By mid-May 2002, the UN estimated that at least 22,000 people were still displaced, but thought the actual figure to be higher. Aid agencies were allowed to visit Kinkala, were 4 government displacement camps had been established on 5 April 2002, but closed 9 days later. Previously, no aid agency had been able to reach Kinkala since 9 April. When the UN gained access to Kindamba, another town in Pool, on 2 June 2002 they found the situation was not as serious as they feared. UNICEF identified 8 cases of malnutrition in children and noted that people had been eating irregularly and lack proteins found in fish, chicken and red meat.

By 4 June 2002, the Government claimed that it had liberated the Pool region, and that the population were able to go about their business as usual. This claim included the town of Vindza, where the Ninja headquarters are located. However, on 14 June 2002, the Ninja launched an attack against Brazzaville, focused on the area around the Maya Maya Airport. It is thought that the primary objective of the Ninjas was to destroy the attack helicopters that the Congolese Government forces employed against them. Government sources stated that they were unsuccessful in their attempt. Sporadic artillery and small arms fire at 04:00 signalled the start of the offensive. Residents of M'Filou, a northern suburb of Brazzaville where the initial attacks occurred, fled to the south of the capital. Government tanks formed a line around the airport, which is located 6 kilometers north of the city center.

The Ninjas were seen to be topless, wearing charms around their necks, in the belief that these charms would ward off bullets. Their attacks were described as determined. Heavy shelling was again heard on the 15 June 2002. Also on 15 June, a police station in Kinsoundi was attacked and burned by the Ninjas. Despite this, locals reported that the Ninjas said that they were “not against the population but against soldiers”. The Ninja allowed people to flee their homes. The UN coordinator in Brazzaville stated that although many people were leaving their homes, the situation was not as bad as the 9 April 2002 situation, because the wards that were affected by this battle were not as populous as those affected on 9 April. Ten thousand people were believed to have fled.

Some 60 Ninja rebels and 13 government soldiers were believed to be dead by the evening of 15 June 2002. Six civilians were also thought to have died. Some reports put the number of dead at 100. On the same day, the airport reopened and thousands of people who had fled returned to their homes. However, the army's heavy weapons could still be heard firing some 12 miles to the west of the city as the army pursued the rebels. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) evacuated 12 people who were seriously wounded and 5 serious medical cases to Brazzaville's hospitals and moved 19 bodies to the morgue, without hindrance from the authorities.

By 30 July 2002, the UN estimated that 66,000 people were still displaced as a result of the fighting since March 2002. One third of this number were being assisted by the UN and its partner agencies in and around Brazzaville. The remainder were most likely living in Pool. This is in addition to the 30,000 Congolese who, by the end of 2001, had sought refuge outside of the country. The number of displaced people had risen to approximately 150,000 by January 2003.

Fighting continued, despite pleas from NGOs to use dialogue to end the hostilities. Eleven people were killed in clashes between the army and the Ninjas in Mpayaka, Pool region in early August 2002. Two soldiers and a civilian were killed on 1 August 2002 in a suspected Ninja attack on the Pointe Noire - Brazzaville train. Another attack on the same train line on 24 August 2002, wounded 30 and killed an unconfirmed number of people. After pillaging what goods the train was carrying, the Ninjas reportedly took hostage a number of soldiers who were acting as escorts. The Government claimed that the train was bringing in food, medicine and fuel to the capital, but the Ninjas refuted this, claiming it was carrying weapons brought from Europe.

Train services between the two cities were suspended for over a week, resuming on 3 September 2002, although passenger services remain suspended as they have since the first attacks in April, earlier in the year. The Ninja continued to target the rail link, derailing a train again on 30 September 2002, killing 9 soldiers and wounding several others, including civilian stowaways. The central area of Pool, including Mayama and Kimpello were sealed off by government forces.

Also, in August 2002, there were still reports of displaced people fleeing from the Pool region. In that month, 42 families arrived in Djambala, Plateaux region escaping fighting in Mpangala, Pool. Other displaced persons have fled to the Plateaux and Bouenza regions, which border Pool, to the north and west respectively.

On 13 May 2002, rape survivors from the 1997 and 1998/9 civil wars were taking their cases to court with the assistance of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). It was reported that over half of the 3,000 rape survivors were children or adolescents. Of the 332 rape victims that have gone through MSF's rehabilitation centres, 178 were minors. MSF claim that 64.3 percent of the rape victims have not pressed charges against their attackers. Victims had difficulty in identifying their attackers, as attacks mainly took place in forests, abandoned houses and jails and they were sometimes raped by more than one person. Rebecca Oba, director of human rights at the Congolese Ministry of Justice, encouraged women to pursue their claims stating that the amnesty for former militia fighters does not provide immunity in the case of rape.

The Government was criticised by the UN Co-ordinator in Brazzaville for its use of MI-24 helicopters against villages in the Pool region. Each helicopter can carry 23 mm heavy machine guns and rocket pods. No one knows how many people had been killed or injured in these raids.

Joining the UN in their condemnation of the tactic of using helicopter gunships, the Bishop of Brazzaville claimed that their use is ineffective against the Ninjas, but the people most likely to be hit are women and children.

4.43 Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at the time, expressed grave concerns on the issue. Ms Robinson stated that an unknown number of civilians were being killed and wounded in these indiscriminate attacks. Mary Robinson also remarked on other reports of human rights abuses. Ms Robinson commented on reports that dozens of females had been raped and that a number of young men have been abducted from camps for internally displaced persons and whose current whereabouts were unknown.

Again, the UN Co-ordinator, William Paton, stated on 30 May 2002 that women were raped in Kindamba. The site was protected by government forces and accommodated 2,000 people. Mr Paton stated that soldiers entered the site, took women out, raped them and then brought them back later in the day. The Government's own figures estimate that some 3,422 women were raped between 1998 and 2002, according to a survey carried out in the southern regions of Kinkala, Nkayi, Sibiti, Dolisie and Pointe-Noire.

In May 2002, 5,000 civilians who had fled the Pool region claimed that they had been forced from their homes in Mbanza-Ndounga, Goma Tsé-Tsé and Boko, by the Ninjas. Those who refused to leave were reportedly killed.

Allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by its staff caused the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to launch an investigation on 20 May 2002. In addition to these allegations, UNHCR staff were also accused of selling travel documents and refugee cards. In September 2002, Jacques Diouf, head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation announced the initiation of a major nationwide food security program. Pilot projects, to run with the assistance of 34 Vietnamese experts, commenced in September 2002. It was estimated that 32 percent of Congolese suffered from hunger. On 14 January 2003, before the announcement of the repatriation of internally displaced people, the World Food Program announced that it urgently required 4,000 metric tonnes of food aid to feed 30,000 until mid-2003.

In November 2002 the United Nations said that it was assisting 8,000 refugees on the outskirts of Brazzaville after they had fled the Pool region. The displaced people said they were fleeing from the lawless condition in the region that was evident in October. The UN said that there were no severe health problems but the lack of sanitation remained a cause for concern.

In late November 2002, it was reported that government forces extradjudicially killed 9 people from Moutampa in the Mbanza-Ndounga district of Pool. The victims included a 17 year old male. Prior to being shot dead, the victims were allegedly severely tortured by the soldiers.

On 4 December 2002, a government spokesman claimed that Ninja rebels had killed 17 civilians in the Pool province over the past four days. The incidence occurred in four different locations. This particularly spate of attacks started on 28 November in the village of Mfouati where five people were killed and a baby was set on fire.

The Internal Human Rights Federation (FIDH) accused the rebels and government forces of committing numerous human rights abuses. In a statement made on 6 December 2002, FIDH claimed that the civilian population had endured summary executions, rapes, looting and had their villages devastated. The human rights body continued to say that no one had been tried for these crimes.

The UN reported in January 2003 that 60,000 people had fled their homes in Pool as a result of “bombing, banditry and attacks on villages”. Clashes between the Ninjas and government forces continued through the end of 2002. The UN provided aid for approximately 84,000 of the 150,000 persons who were displaced at the time, but the remaining 60,000 were beyond the reach of the aid agencies.

At least 10 people were killed in an attack on the village of Yamba in the Bouenza province, on 10 February 2003 according to the authorities. They claim that 40 Ninjas attacked the main police station, killing the police commissioner and approximately 10 civilians. The Ninjas looted shops before fleeing to Loulombo and Kimbedi in the Pool province. Other reports put the number of Ninja militia who participated in the attack at just eight.

Amnesty International reported that over 170 people had been killed in Brazzaville in early 2003. Most of these were unarmed civilians. In light of the peace initiative, on 7 April 2003, the Government announced an agreement with humanitarian aid agencies, concerning the return of internally displaced people (IDP) to the Pool region. Emilienne Raoul, the Minister for Social Affairs said that the Government agreed to provide transportation for the returnees, who were assured of their “security and dignity”. Sory Ouane, the interim co-ordinator of the UN aid agencies, said the UN agencies would provide food and non food items, as well as youth training to start the reconstruction of the province. The aid agencies said that a rapid return of displaced people to their homes was necessary, as the conditions in the IDP camps were deteriorating.

The continuation of violence in the Pool province forced the Government into the establishing a buffer zone around Brazzaville in an attempt to prevent Ninja infiltration of the capital city, which borders the Pool province. The zone also prevented fleeing civilians from reaching the city.

In November 2002, a plan was presented to the Government to end the hostilities. A committee established at the President's request issued a ten-point peace plan. Amongst these points were the replacement of army units in Pool, which were mainly comprised of ill-disciplined conscripts, with gendarmes, a withdrawal of all foreign troops, a general amnesty for surrendering Ninjas and full access to Pool for NGOs. The committee also offered to act as mediators between SassouNguesso and Pasteur Ntoumi.

On 19 November 2002, President Sassou-Nguesso ordered the military to create a humanitarian corridor to enable Ninja rebels to leave the forests of Pool and pass safely to Brazzaville in order to disarm. The President guaranteed their safety, but added that there was a one-month ultimatum to take up his offer or face the consequences.

A breakthrough in the drive for peace came on 17 March 2003, when the Government and the Ninjas issued a declaration in Brazzaville. The Ninja spokesman agreed to end hostilities, disarm his fighters and enable the state to restore authority in Pool. The Government, in turn, agreed to guarantee an amnesty offer to rebels, including provisions for integrating ex-combatants into the army. Les Depeches de Brazzaville reported that on 23 March 2003 the Minister for the Co-ordination of Government Activities, Isidire Mvouba, welcomed a delegation of 100 Ninja militiamen to Brazzaville.

The Ninja delegation, lead by Prosper Miyamou, also known as Pistolet, entered the city on foot through the Kinkoula humanitarian corridor from Bouenza province. On 26 March 2003, the Government and Ninjas exchanged prisoners as part of the agreement to restore peace to the country. Some 21 Ninjas and 16 government soldiers as well as two women who had given birth in captivity were exchanged. The process was facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

By April 2003 over 2,000 rebel Ninja soldiers had surrendered with their weapons in Congo's Pool region. this followed a peace agreement reached on 17 March 2003 between the government and Ninja leader, Rev. Frederic Bitsangou (Pastor Ntoumi). The disarmed Ninjas, who had been guaranteed amnesty by the government, were awaiting either integration into the military or assistance in returning to civilian life. Conflict erupted in Pool between government forces and Ninja rebels loyal to Ntoumi in late March 2002. An additional 600 Ninja rebels were reported to have surrendered in May 2003. The Republic of Congo was within reach of a durable peace.

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